Red ink, wastepaper: Clifton Hunter's book value

Clifton Hunter High School was intended to be a monument to Cayman Islands education. Instead, through mismanagement, poor planning and an absence of accounting, the sprawling campus in Frank Sound has become a memorial to governmental waste.

As if the government high schools project — which, lest we forget, resulted in only one school out of three originally promised — needed another black mark on its permanent record, the auditor general’s office offered up two more last week.

First, Acting Auditor General Garnet Harrison confirmed that Clifton Hunter — built at a cost of $110.1 million — has an estimated book value of $90 million … or maybe less. Yes, our officials spent $110 million on an asset that’s only worth $90 million. When we speak of the concept of achieving “value for money,” Clifton Hunter is a choice counter-example.

Past reports, legislative hearings and news stories have examined who may bear responsibility for the expensive and expansive debacle, and why.

(The short answer: Almost everybody involved in the project, starting from the top, for various reasons that still haven’t been entirely clarified.)

An article that appeared on the front page of Friday’s Compass newspaper delved, rather, into the “whats” of the waste … as in, “What did officials spend all those tens of millions of dollars on?” and “What did taxpayers get in return for our money?”

First, the construction of Clifton Hunter soared some $41.4 million higher than what government had planned to spend on the school. That is not a misplaced decimal point. The government intended to spend less than $69 million on the high school, and instead ended up spending more than $110 million. That equates to cost overruns of greater than 60 percent. That’s quite an “oops!” factor.

Of that $41.4 million in extraordinary spending, auditors were able to break down $30.3 million in expenditures, including:

  • $3.7 million extra for architectural design
  • $1.7 million more for ministry-ordered changes to that design
  • $3.1 million for a new project manager contract
  • $5.1 million for a new construction manager contract
  • $4 million in legal and arbitration costs to settle “numerous” contractor disputes
  • $4.5 million for another settlement with the project’s primary mechanical, electrical and plumbing contractor
  • $6 million to remediate faulty construction work
  • $2.2 million to pay two contractors for time extensions needed to complete their work,

So that’s what we paid for. What did we get in return? According to our news story, “Mr. Harrison said none of these expenses would have added significant value to the schools project.”

What’s even worse than Clifton Hunter’s detrimental impact to the public treasury is Clifton Hunter’s apparent adverse impact on students’ learning.

A team of inspectors concluded that the school’s open-plan classroom layout posed an “urgent problem” and “adversely affects students’ concentration.”

In response, the consultants behind the original layout of the school — which they, for the record, describe as “agile multifaceted spaces” instead of “open plan” — defended their design, blaming the school’s failures on political changes and saying Clifton Hunter could still succeed “within the context of a comprehensive transformation of the entire educational system in the Cayman Islands.”

That, we believe, is the most important point. Ultimately, education is about people — primarily teachers and students — not structures. That is where investments should be concentrated, on nurturing the active pedagogical process that takes place every day, not on the trappings that surround it. On learning, not “learning spaces.”

After all, education and knowledge are for the benefit of the living — pyramids and other monuments are built for the dead.

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  1. I am surprised and disappointed that no one has pointed out another, more serious, outcome of the whole débâcle…. running costs. Is it true, for example, that the utilities bill for the Clifton Hunter site is $3 Million a year? How much does it cost to maintain the extensive grounds? Why on earth are there no solar panels on any of that huge roof space?

    Past errors and misjudgements are spilt milk…. gallons of it. Present day monthly expenditure is another matter.

  2. One could qualify payments for a percentage of unforeseen, but this is ridiculous. And with a simple open plan design where the hidden elements?. This is a good example why value for money now dictates procurement and contracting by government.. Simply, no money until the business plan is logically presented with due diligence. Now penalties if mismanagement of the funds authorized to build IAW business case leaves a project incomplete. Project Manager and Quality assurance officer where were you?. Running scared of the politicians instead of escorting them from the job site?. Then again, some politician would lead you through a mine field and put the minesweeper in the rear. Glad for the school though, better costly than none, and a learning experience.

  3. It is very hard to put a valuation on any building of this type because there are no open market buyers.

    It’s just not like a house or even an office building when one can determine what someone else would pay for it.

    And while it is easy to criticize our government for cost overruns, please show us any public works anywhere in the world finished on time and on budget.

    The Brazil world cup stadiums ran $1 billion over budget.

    The Russian Sochi Olympic stadium came in at $51 billion. Four times the original estimate.

    The UK National Health Service abandoned an IT system that cost $15 billion. All down the drain. According to the Guardian newspaper.

  4. And my child will suffer as a result, who will compensate her for the lack of teacher training due to the "open plan" that no one was prepared for, because it was a modern idea.

    So I will have to hire a tutor to make up for the crap school design.

    Thanks for the awesome Cayman Public School Education. Be proud fellow Caymanians, and never wonder why the expats get the "good jobs".

  5. Norman Linton….Large projects in Cayman can be delivered on program and on budget….
    The new Government HQ….It”s all about good project management,good construction teams,and a good workforce.
    All of which came together to design and build GOAP,